Title: The Wedding Dilemma
Author: Mariah Ankenman
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Romantic Comedy
My life has always been pretty predictable. Run into burning buildings, save those in distress, be a hero. Shoot the shit with my fireman buddies, come home, and do it all again tomorrow. Little did I know that a random SOS call from a woman stuck in a plaster cast with nothing underneath (I swear I only caught a flash of her smokin’-hot body) would throw me for a complete loop. Until I see the flighty artist again. At my mom’s engagement party. To her dad. Suddenly the unpredictable woman I couldn’t stop thinking about is my soon-to-be-stepsister. Yeah, the same one I mortified when I accidentally saw her a tiny bit naked. This should make family gatherings way more interesting. Except when your mom’s as loaded as mine is, you can never fully let your guard down when a guy comes sniffing around. So I can’t help but be suspicious, even though his daughter’s the perfect blend of beautiful and wild. The more time we spend together, prepping for our parents’ wedding, I start to wonder if there’s nothing wrong with having a little bit of fun in the meantime. But if she knew I was investigating her dad on the side, she would never forgive me…
She held her hand out and he placed the coin back into her palm, purposefully stroking the tips of his fingers along her skin as he did. One dark eyebrow raised, but she didn’t call him out on it. He saw a slight tremor in her hand as she curled her fingers around the coin. Dammit, he really had to stop testing this line they were both dancing on.
“Good. Now can you confirm this is an ordinary bottle of water. Feel free to open it and take a sip if you want.”
He grabbed the bottle, flipping it all around, running his fingers along the plastic. No leaks, no false bottom. Seemed normal. It even still had the safety seal. Again his brain tried to warn him of something, but the danger was just outside his grasp. He twisted off the cap and lifted the bottle to his lips, but paused before taking a sip.
“Wait, you’re not going to poison me or anything?” he joked.
“I’m an artist. If I was going to kill someone I’d hack them into pieces, encase those in body casts and pretend it was an art installation. Probably sell it for a mint too.”
He tipped the bottle down. “It’s kind of terrifying how much you’ve thought of this.”
“Naw,” she pushed a lock of dark hair behind her ear. “It was a real story. Some artist in the seventies did too much acid and thought his landlord was a giant snake monster trying to devour him. He grabbed an axe and hacked the poor man to death, then tried to cover his crime by dunking the body parts in cement. The cops discovered him mid dunking and he was sent to prison for thirty to life. But it’s a great line to give creepers at the bar when they won’t take no for an answer.”
He laughed, bringing the bottle to his lips again. Cold, fresh water filled his mouth. He swallowed the sip and passed the bottle back. “I can confirm that’s a normal bottle of water.”
“Thank you. Now.” She held up the coin. “I will put this quarter on the table.”
She put the quarter down between them.
“Now I will place the water bottle on top of the quarter.” She waved her hand over the bottle. “And say the magic words, presto change-o.”
He snorted. “Presto change-o?”
He mimed zipping his lips, amused by her dedication to a silly trick.
“Now, look deeply into the bottle and see the quarter in the water’s depths. No, no, from the top,” she insisted when he stared through the side.
He scooted forward on his chair, leaning over the top of the water bottle, his eye over the opening. How was he supposed to know if the quarter—
Suddenly a gush of water came shooting out of the bottle, hitting Parker square in the face. He sputtered, the sound of Tamsen’s bright laughter filling his ears as he wiped water from his eyes.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe you fell for that.”
Oh, shit, now he remembered. Ward had shared a video of this a few months ago. Some viral prank. It was funny when he saw it, not so funny when it happened to you. But Tamsen’s glee was infectious. He found himself grinning as he subtly reached for the water bottle.
“Touché, but I’m a firefighter, sweetheart. A little water won’t make me melt. Of course, you’re as sweet as sugar, so…”
Her eyes widened as he rose from his seat, water bottle in hand. She popped up from the table, hands held out in front of her, laughter spilling from her lips as she shook her head.
“Parker, don’t even think about it.”
“Oh, I’m thinking about it.”
She squealed, trying to dodge around him, but he scooped her up with one arm, holding her close to his chest as he tipped the water bottle over her head. She yelped out a half scream half laugh, water pouring down her face.
“I can’t believe you did that.”
“Turnabout is fair play.”
She smiled up at him, tiny droplets of water catching on her dark lashes, rolling down her face. His laughter died as Parker took in their position. Tamsen was pressed up against him, and as much as he tried to control himself, it was turning out to be impossible around this woman.
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Bestselling author Mariah Ankenman lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her two rambunctious daughters and loving husband who provides ample inspiration for her heart-stopping heroes.
Mariah loves to lose herself in a world of words. Her favorite thing about writing is when she can make someone’s day a little brighter with one of her books. To learn more about Mariah and her books, follow her on social media or sign up for her newsletter.
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